Hot Chickens, Cool Caterpillars

The chickens are holding up OK in our record summer heat. We did lose one to heat stroke, early on… one of the young roosters was trying to be close to Momma while she was trying to lay an egg in the middle of the afternoon, and it was just too much. I set up a stand mister and a fan, which cools off a small section of the back yard.

I set it up so that this area is also screened by trees, so it’s not only shady, but safer from hawks.

The Marans pullets are growing right along.  I have started calling them Cinnamon, Cardamom, and Clove – the Spice Girls.  The remaining rooster… was delicious.  I had hoped that he would get a little older and more robust before we had to kill and process him, but he was getting too noisy.  There’s a misconception that roosters crow *only* at dawn… roosters *start* crowing at dawn.  They also crow whenever something frightens or threatens them, whenever they feel the need to prove their manly roosterfulness, or just whenever the joy of song bubbles up from within and cannot be denied.  They crow a LOT.  Hundreds of times each day.  Quite loudly.  That’s the main reason that we’re not allowed to have roosters in the City of Dallas.

The Marans hens, although not as brightly colored as the roosters, have a lovely iridescent green/purple sheen to their feathers.

Freebird looks like she’s picking a wedgie, or trying to impersonate the Escher Dragon.  She’s molting by bits, and the new feathers look distinctly blue against the aging yellower ones.

I also set up a brazier that holds enough water for a little wading – the chickens shed heat through their skin, especially on their feet, legs, and combs, so getting their feet wet makes them cooler.

The Promethea caterpillars are chowing right along.  They’re getting noticeably bigger; you can tell especially by the proportion of head to body.  Their head casings are inflexible, like a helmet, but their bodies stretch – they start out with tiny bodies and huge heads, and end up just the opposite as the body outgrows the head.  Then, they shed their skin, and it starts all over with a new bigger head.

And this is what the larvae do to a sweetgum branch!  As they grow, I put new branches in their container, and they walk from the old leaves to the new ones.

I walked into the kitchen with the camera from taking chicken pictures, and Chris didn’t even have time to duck – he just kind of flinched.  I think it’s a good picture of him, though!  Behind him is the new chrome-yellow wall of the kitchen; he painted all the downstairs rooms in new, rich colors.

 

 

Promethea – second instar

The Promethea caterpillars are changing to second instar. They’re seven days old.

They have not all shifted yet – they may have hatched across two days, or some may just be a little delayed. You can see that the remaining first-instar caterpillars are smaller, and also yellower than their second-instar siblings.

You can see – especially on the stripe behind the head – that they’re beginning to develop a white, flaky cortex – as they get older, it will develop almost into a crust. I don’t know whether this helps to make them unpalatable to birds, or what.

A New (to me) Moth – Promethea

The Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea) lives in Texas, but not the part where I live – they want the far-eastern reaches of the state, up against Louisiana. They have a wide range in the eastern US, all the way to the Atlantic.

These are the eggs after hatching. They remind me a lot of the Eri silkmoth, Samia ricini and the Calleta Silkmoth, Eupackardia calleta, both of which are cousins of Promethea.

On the day of hatching, the larvae are very big-headed. They tend to be gregarious; they will wander for a while, but then settle in little clumps. They remind me of tiny sheep, the way they line up shoulder-to-shoulder to eat.

Although they’re only a day older than the hatchlings, these guys have noticeably lengthened out – and you can see the clumping behavior. They will stick together like this until they get to the third instar, if they follow the pattern of their cousins… we’ll see as they grow up!

These guys tend to prefer tulip tree and sassafras and spice bush – I have them on sweetgum (liquidambar), as I don’t have easy access to the other trees. They seem to be doing OK so far.

Teenage Chickens

The chickens are growing up fast! They’re eight weeks old today.  They will spend long periods of time some distance from their momma, although they still tend to hang out with her when the other hens are around, and she’s still feeding them and gathering them up into the coop at night.

 

We’ve quite definitely got three pullets (young hens) and two cockerels (young roosters) – this time around, the differences were clear quite young, and have become more pronounced as they grow.

 

One of the pullets.   This one has a little more of the copper on her back than she really should have, but I think she’s going to grow up to be a lovely hen.

 

One of the cockerels.  This one is more than a little on the gangly-and-awkward side; hopefully he will eventually grow into the length of his legs, and stop being such a momma’s boy. We call him Urkel.

 

Another family grouping, with a photo-bomb from Ginger.

 

I *love* Ginger’s expression.  She always has this look in her eye.  Ginger takes no crap from anybody.

Hatching Day

Chris got me a new camera for our anniversary; a Canon T2i.  I’ve been playing around with the new camera, looking at some hatchling silkworms.

This one’s in the process of hatching.  They bite through the egg shell, bit by bit, and then crawl out.

 

The lenses on the new camera are working for me quite well; it takes a lot of light and some serious care in the focusing, but I’m getting pretty much what I want.  The thing I want to work on next, is a tiny bit more depth of field…  I’m already shooting with lots of additional light, but I still get a less-than-paper-thin depth of field on these super close shots.  Actually, the straw-like substrate that the worm is walking on, is the fiber in a brown paper sack.

After enough of them hatch out, I brush them off the paper into a little tray, and sprinkle finely chopped mulberry leaf over them.

For comparison, here’s a link to some shots I took a few years back, using the old camera and the add-on tube lens.  The new camera is SO much sharper!  You can really see the difference in the detail level between the shot above, with the T2i, and the one below from the PowerShot (a point-and-shoot):

 

 

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Fashionably Late Easter Peeps

We’ve got peeps.

I had tried putting fertile eggs under Sue back in December.  Unfortunately, I made a rookie mistake, and so did she.  I didn’t change her food when I put her in the broody box; a sitting hen needs a leaner diet than a laying hen, to prevent diarrhea.  What she did wrong, was fail to get off the nest to use the bathroom one time.  I imagine that you can see how these two things together led to a nest of very nasty eggs… and nasty eggs get infected with bacteria and don’t hatch. I didn’t post about it then, because it was sad and a let-down.

This time, both of us learned from our mistakes.  I changed up her diet, and moved her off the nest every day to do her business.  When I was on a teaching trip, Chris had to move her.  She sat eight French Marans eggs, five of which developed.  Yesterday, they began making faint plaintive peeping noises to one another and to Sue through the egg shells.  Today, she has five cute fluffy babies!

You can see four of them in this picture.  She’s still keeping them quite close up under her, but all five are fluffy and moving around.

 

You can see the egg tooth on the center one, a little.

You see the egg tooth better in the close-up.

Sue is fussing with the chicks, and fussing at me. Watch for the one that peeks out from the back side! This was early in the day, when I was still trying to figure out how many chicks there were.

And this is what happens if you tick off a mother hen. The clank that you hear partway through is me adjusting a lamp; Sue did not care for that. Fortunately, her pecks are more of a flying pinch than a stab… she hasn’t drawn blood or really hurt me, yet, although from the look in her eyes, blood remains an option.


Chicks rearranging themselves. The background is a little red, because I turned on the red brooder lamp to give them a little warmth. The bathroom where I’ve got the broody box tends to be cooler than the rest of the house.

Tomatoes, Chickens, Mason Bees.

The tomatoes are doing well.

These were planted the 23rd of January.  They’re doing quite well in their four-inch pots.  I kind of wish I had started them earlier, but by the same token they’re easier to manage when they’re not huge… and there are a lot of them.  I’m going to share some with friends, and also some with Garden Club folks.  Rainbow Garden Club is doing a plant booth at the Earth Day Festival in Oak Cliff, and I’m going to donate the rest for that. We’ve still got most of another month before tomatoes go in the ground, and by that point, I’m sure they’ll be plenty big.

The ones my Dad gave us were planted on the first of December; I picked them up in early January.  They’ve already got flower buds on them!

 

I planted nine different kinds of peppers, too.  I know, now, that I should have started them two weeks ahead of the tomatoes – but I didn’t know that then.  The purple-leaved ones really make me happy.  There are Grande Jalapenos, “Fooled You” Jalapenos (a non-hot Jalapeno for those of us who have digestive challenges and can’t take the heat…), “Explosive Ember” ornamental, “Royal Black” ornamental, “Chilly Chili” ornamental, Big Birtha bell peppers, “Bolivian Rainbow” ornamental… and something else I can’t remember without checking tags.  Oh, and a dozen of the white tomatoes that we enjoyed so much last year; a cherry plant called “Snow White.”

 

The perennials and shrubs are starting to put out some new growth; this is a green bud on Chris’s fig tree.

I got some Mason bees from North Haven Gardens.  They’re a super pollinator; because they don’t clean themselves as thoroughly as honey bees, and the pollen sticks to their hairy bodies, 1 Mason bee can do the pollinating work of 120 honey bees.  They’re called Mason bees because they seal up their tube-homes with mud, but I like to think of them in little fez hats and ceremonial robes, calling one another Exalted Grand Master and High Poo-bah.  This is a tube of their cocoons; they are kept in a refrigerator, and they hatch once they get out and warm up.

This is the house they will build their little tube nests in.  The bees naturally nest in hollowed stems of certain kinds of plants, but this gives them an ideal situation.

I mounted it up under the eaves of the house, so that it wouldn’t get rained on. The two dark-ended tubes are the ones with the bee cocoons in.

 

As I was putting the tubes of bees into the house, this little bee crawled out.  After walking around on my hand for a while, he (she?) took off.  Note the super-fuzzy body and head – this is what gives the bee its super pollinating power!

 

The chickens took a brief stroll in the front yard this afternoon. You don’t need a leash to walk your chickens… just a handful of cracked corn.

Ruby was digging for bugs in the mulch. Despite my repeated explanations, they were not very interested in eating the weeds.  Fortunately, they were also not interested in eating the daffodils.

 

 

I got one egg early this morning; these are #2, 3, and 4.  Nowadays we are getting four or five each day.  Jumbo Ginger is taking a break, and Sue is just getting back into laying, but five eggs a day certainly keeps me happy.

After growing it both my beard and my hair for a couple of months, I decided that it was a pain in the butt, a lot of extra maintenance, and a cause of a lot of sweat.  I decided to keep the beard, but much shorter, and went back to a short buzz on the head.

 

 

Witch Egg

Our Phoenix hen, Sue, laid a witch egg.

Chris found it by the food bowl.  From reading up, they’re called “Witch eggs,” “Dwarf eggs,” “runt eggs,” and “wind eggs.”  Some people call them “fart eggs.”  We think that it may have been her first egg back on the cycle – she had stopped laying for a while, when she sat and went broody, and hadn’t laid since.  For those of you who asked after the eggs I put under Sue – sadly, they did not hatch.  She and I both made rookie mistakes – she failed to get up off the eggs to do her business one afternoon, and I failed to change her diet to a higher-carbohydrate, lower-protein one to prevent loose stools.  An entire clutch of eggs evenly coated in chicken diarrhea is NOT a pretty thing to come home to.  I cleaned them according to instructions I found on the internet, rinsing gently in tepid water, and cleaned her nest, and changed her diet – but the damage had been done, and the eggs all eventually succumbed to bacteria.

The tiny egg next to one of Sue’s normal eggs. Sue has very long, slender eggs; sometimes both ends are equally pointed, which I think is cool.   Sue is an odd bird – her eyes are black from side to side, and she has spurs like a rooster.

 

Often, these tiny eggs won’t have any yolk.  The shell is considerably thicker than the normal egg.  This one has a tiny proto-yolk.

 

Just to see what it would do, I fried both of them, sunny-side-up. Unfortunately, the tiny yolk was surrounded by an area of thickened white, so it didn’t make a cute tiny bubble of yellow.  It tasted just fine, though.